Friday, October 23, 2020
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Coronavirus UK: Furious Manchester mayor Andy Burnham threatens to take legal action

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Millions of Londoners face tougher lockdown from tomorrow night as Boris Johnson ramps up efforts to tackle the coronavirus surge.

The capital will face tighter Tier Two controls from midnight tomorrow after a deal was done with mayor Sadiq Khan.

It means as of Saturday nine million people will be banned from mixing with other households indoors, including in bars and other venues. Socialising outdoors – including in pub and private gardens – will still be allowed within the Rule of Six.

Mr Khan has been demanding more support for hospitality businesses that could be crippled by the shift. He warned this morning that Londoners face a ‘difficult winter ahead’, and also repeated his call for new national ‘circuit breaker’ measures alongside the curbs. 

‘Nobody wants to see more restrictions – but this is deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners lives by myself, London Council Leaders and by Ministers,’ Mr Khan said at City Hall.

‘As part of our discussions, I’ve also made clear to the Government that we need more financial support for London’s businesses, workers and public services as we face more restrictions – and we will continue to make this case.’

The PM is also preparing to put Greater Manchester and Lancashire into Tier Three restrictions – meaning a total shutdown of bars and even harsher restrictions on households mixing.

Ministers have signalled they are pressing ahead with the drastic steps despite Manchester mayor Andy Burnham pushing for a bigger bailout and vowing to sue. However, amid confusion, MPs for the area said they were told at a briefing this morning that no final decision had been taken.

Mr Johnson reviewed the proposals this morning after they were signed off by the ‘gold command’ group including chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

But the news leaked after London MPs were informed, with confirmation due in a Commons statement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at 11.30am.

Mr Burnham and the region’s local council leaders threatened legal action if they are put into the ‘fundamentally flawed’ highest level of local restrictions without more financial help.

The Mayor said he would ‘not cave into the pressure’ by agreeing to a local lockdown and said the extreme restrictions would be ‘by imposition, not consent’.

But the government has made clear that while it wants to work with local authorities, it will act without their cooperation if necessary.   

By contrast Lancashire’s county council leader Geoff Driver has said it is ‘inevitable’ his region will enter Tier Three. The area reported a further 835 cases yesterday, some 87 of them in the seaside resort of Blackpool where medics said they fear having to relive the April peak ‘all over again for an indefinite period of time’ as intensive care wards fill up. 

Mr Khan has been pushing for the capital to be moved up from Tier One – which just means normal social distancing rules, the Rule of Six and a 10pm curfew on pubs – to Tier Two.

However, he has been angling for more funding to go alongside the curbs, and there was resistance within government, local councils and Tory MPs to treating London as a whole, with infection rates varying widely in different boroughs. 

 In other coronavirus developments: 

  • Former government advisor Louise Casey has warned that locked down workers could be forced to ‘prostitute’ themselves because government support is inadequate; 
  • Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster announced;
  • As many as 12 London boroughs have breached the infection threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 people as Mr Khan warned Tier 2 restrictions for the capital are ‘inevitable’; 
  • Royal Liverpool Hospital has no more beds available in its intensive care unit, according to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, and a senior doctor warns 58 of 60 beds are filled;
  • Quarantine for travellers returning to the UK from virus hotspots will be slashed to seven days with travellers taking a test a week after landing, the Transport Secretary has said; 
  • Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots not to travel to Blackpool saying 180 recent infections north of the border had been linked to the town;
  • The UK’s total coronavirus deaths rose to 43,155 yesterday, while the number of cases diagnosed since the outbreak began in March reached 654,644.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in Westminster yesterday for Prime Minister's Questions

Sadiq Khan warned this morning that Londoners face a 'difficult winter ahead'

Boris Johnson (left) leaves 10 Downing Street in Westminster yesterday for Prime Minister’s Questions. Sadiq Khan (right) warned this morning that Londoners face a ‘difficult winter ahead’ as the capital moves to Tier Two restrictions

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (pictured on Sky News yesterday) and its council leaders threatened legal action

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (pictured on Sky News yesterday) and its council leaders threatened legal action

People walk through Manchester city centre yesterday with the region facing the prospect of a tier three lockdown

People walk through Manchester city centre yesterday with the region facing the prospect of a tier three lockdown

Yesterday, Mr Burnham and other Manchester leaders backed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s calls for a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and refused to accept the Prime Minister’s call for a tougher local lockdown. 

They ‘fear a winter where large parts of the North are trapped in tier three’ without financial support for firms or for those unable to work. 

The measures come in spite of Manchester’s Covid-19 infection rate appearing to slow. This week saw 448 cases per 100,000 – compared to 582 per 100,000 the week prior. 

After learning the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s ‘Gold Command’ had recommended an upgrade, Mr Burnham tweeted: ‘Said I wasn’t going to comment but now feel compelled to do so on the back of this Government briefing. 

‘At no point during tonight’s briefing was this news communicated to us. Media told first once again. Our position has not changed.’

Lancashire county council leader Geoff Driver yesterday said it is ‘inevitable’ his region will enter Tier Three, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s really a question of when and how, and we’re working with Government trying to put together a package of measures that will mitigate the inevitable impact on that particular sector of the economy.’

Tier Three restrictions include a ban on socialising with other households indoors and in gardens. 

Speaking at City Hall, Mr Khan stepped up the pressure on Mr Johnson to go for a two-week national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown over school half-term this month – something the premier has so far said he will not do.   

‘Given how far the virus has already been allowed to spread – and given the government’s complete failure to get a working test, trace and isolate system in place – I believe we also need action on a national scale – just as the government’s own scientific advisers have recommended,’ Mr Khan said.

‘That’s why I’ll continue to call for a short national circuit-breaker.

‘This could save thousands of lives, drive the virus down to manageable levels, and give the government more time to finally get a grip on its failing test and trace system.’ 

In a round of interviews earlier, business minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested the decision had already been taken on subjecting Greater Manchester and Lancashire to the most severe measures as he was asked about the meeting later between the region’s MPs and health ministers.

He told Sky News: ‘I hope that they can be at the meeting and make time for that meeting so they can hear from the chief medical officer, from the deputy chief medical officer, as to why we’re having to take this action.’

Meanwhile, another furious row is ongoing between Mr Johnson and UK nations, after Wales announced a block on people travelling from coronavirus hotspots in England.

Critics have dismissed the step by First Minister Mark Drakeford as unenforceable and an attempt to ‘ban the English’.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford confirmed this morning that Scotland could follow Wales in preventing non-essential travel from coronavirus restrictions.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We of course have the opportunity to put in place appropriate public health measures. What we can do, if necessary, is say that people should not travel from hotspots, whether they should be from in Scotland or people coming to Scotland from other parts of the United Kingdom.

‘But that will be done on an evidence-based approach where we think it’s appropriate to protect the people in all parts of the country from people travelling where it’s not necessary. When people have to travel for business, for work, and so on – essential journeys – they will still be allowed, but what we’re talking about is non-essential journeys, where it’s appropriate to do that.’ 

In a press conference with mayor of the Liverpool City region Steve Rotheram yesterday, Mr Burnham said: ‘My great fear is we’re going to see a position where areas, one by one, are going to have pressure piled upon them to go into tier three, because that’s an easier option for the government.

‘It’s cheaper, it puts all the pressure on local leaders without the support. I think a winter where most of the north is trapped in tier three is going to be very serious.’

He said the option backed by Sir Keir – which would involve a country-wide lockdown for between two and three weeks – ‘would be a better and a fairer way of keeping the country together, not accentuating regional divide’.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Government will pay two thirds of the salaries of people who can’t keep working under tier three lockdown – such as bar staff.

But Mr Burnham said the measures aren’t enough and threatened going down ‘legal routes’.

He told the conference: ‘We won’t accept people having their jobs taken off them, their businesses taken off them without proper compensation and what I mean by that is 80 per cent furlough across the board.

‘We would consider other routes – legal routes – where we could protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.

‘We would not just leave them in the lurch, we would try and support them and that would include any legal action we could take on their behalf.

‘We might even consider some joint action in that space because we won’t let people just be sent to the wall.’ 

The death toll for the remainder of 2020 could be reduced from 19,900 to 12,100 if Britons are ordered to keep indoors and schools are shut for just two weeks from October 24, a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) paper seen by The Times showed.

The news of a potential new tier three lockdown comes as Britain’s daily Covid-19 cases jumped 40 per cent in a week.  Health officials yesterday announced 19,724 more infections and 137 new deaths.  

Last Wednesday, 14,162 cases and 70 deaths were recorded, as well as 17,234 cases and a four-month high of 143 fatalities on Tuesday. 

For comparison, more than 100,000 Britons were getting infected and at least 1,000 were dying every day during the darkest period of the first wave in March and April. 

Mr Johnson yesterday sounded defiant on his local tiers lockdown plan, despite warnings from scientists that it is the ‘worst of all worlds’. Rumours were swirling that the Prime Minister had been seriously considering a ‘circuit breaker’.

But in brutal clashes at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson dismissed calls from Sir Keir Starmer and Sage for a ‘miserable’ national ‘circuit breaker’. 

He insisted that his job was to balance the economic and wider interests of the country with the science. 

And Welsh ministers faced fury yesterday after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots entering the country. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the move saying people were ‘anxious and fearful’ about importing infection.

The rolling seven-day average of daily infections — considered a more accurate measure because it takes into account day-to-day fluctuations — is 15,767, having soared from 3,000 this time last month. 

And data shows the average number of daily deaths is 91, having steadily increased following a record-low of seven in mid-August.

Only the US, Brazil, India and Mexico, all countries with substantially larger populations, have suffered more fatalities than the UK’s tally of 43,155. 

But experts consider this to be an underestimate because it only takes into account patients who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

 

Graphs from the paper show what effect different circuit breakers would have on deaths, hospitalisations and infections. Yellow represents the most strict form of circuit breaker, while the dotted black line shows what would happen if no measures were in place

Graphs from the paper show what effect different circuit breakers would have on deaths, hospitalisations and infections. Yellow represents the most strict form of circuit breaker, while the dotted black line shows what would happen if no measures were in place

A lack of testing at the peak of the pandemic meant many hospital patients and care home residents passed away without being diagnosed.

In fierce clashes across the dispatch box in PMQs, Sir Keir pointed out that Mr Johnson had promised in May his approach would be ‘governed entirely by the science’, but SAGE documents revealed they had been calling for a national ‘circuit breaker’ for weeks.

He swiped: ‘Why did the Prime Minister reject that advice and abandon the science?’

But Mr Johnson shot back: ”Since he quotes the SAGE advice I might just remind him that on page one it says that all the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and well-being and that policymakers will need to consider announcements and economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.’

The premier went on: ‘He wants to close pubs, he wants to close bars, he wants to close businesses in areas across the country where the incidence is low.’

Mr Johnson accused Sir Keir of ‘opportunism’, and urged him to encourage Labour’s local leaders in the North to sign up to tougher curbs. He said his tiered strategy was the way to ‘avoid the misery of another national lockdown’.

However, as the blows turned personal, Sir Keir said: ‘I know that for someone who has been an opportunist all his life this is difficult to understand, but having read and considered the Sage advice I have genuinely concluded that a circuit-break is in the national interest.’

As the three-tier Covid alert level system comes into force across England, the Liverpool City region is currently the only area in the highest bracket. 

Relations with the scientific community – and crucially chief advisers Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance – appear to have deteriorated dramatically as divisions are played out in public.

In a brutal Twitter thread overnight, Wellcome Trust director Professor Jeremy Farrar warned that the Government risked damaging the economy and should have acted three weeks ago to avoid an even worse March-style lockdown.

‘The latest government plans are an attempt to compromise between health and the economy but may end up damaging both,’ he said.

‘We didn’t use the summer months to get an effective, supportive and trusted track-trace-isolate system in place as other countries managed to do. That would have helped get R right down. Instead we headed into autumn with R too high. We’re sadly seeing the consequences of this now.

‘New measures shift responsibility to local authorities, but as the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) made crystal clear, at base they will have little to no effect on transmission. This is the worst of all worlds, the economic damage of more restrictions without the gain of a reduction in transmission.’

Mr Farrar said the best time to act would have been three weeks ago, but an immediate ‘circuit breaker’ would help. ‘If we wait, the government will inevitably have to change course again in four to six weeks, but the longer they leave it the harsher restrictions will have to get and the longer they will need to be imposed,’ he warned.

The academics behind the startling study which found half-term coronavirus lockdown could save up to 100,000 lives by New Year have also admitted Britain may have ‘missed the boat’ on a circuit breaker.

Professor Matt Keeling – from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling – revealed he wished he ‘hadn’t put these numbers in the study’ because the extreme scenario was only included ‘for illustration’.

Professor Keeling told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme yesterday: ‘I really, really wish I hadn’t put these numbers in the paper because they were there for illustration.

By September 15 the UK seven-day rolling average of cases was tracking at more than double that of Germany

By September 15 the UK seven-day rolling average of cases was tracking at more than double that of Germany

Boris Johnson yesterday sounded defiant on his local tiers lockdown plan during Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament

Boris Johnson yesterday sounded defiant on his local tiers lockdown plan during Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament

‘We looked at a range of different scenarios from a relatively low growth rate going forward where we might reduce deaths by a third between now and new year to some extreme scenarios, which I think are the ones that have been quoted in the papers, which really were ‘what happens if we don’t do anything?’ between now and the new year.’

Wales says it will BAN people from Covid hotspots in England 

Welsh ministers faced fury yesterday after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots entering the country.

First Minister Mark Drakeford was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the move saying people were ‘anxious and fearful’ about importing infection.

He put the blame for the action squarely on Boris Johnson, saying the PM had ignored two letters requesting he introduce travel restrictions in areas of England with high case rates.

But there were immediate questions about how the measure, due to come in from 6pm on Friday, can possibly be enforced.

Police commissioners in Wales suggested they could set up road blocks and follow up tips from the public.

But they have admitted there is not the capacity to ‘line the border with patrol cars’.

Tory member of the Welsh Parliament Andrew RT Davies said: ‘The Welsh Government’s unhealthy obsession with travel restrictions and ”banning the English” flies in the face of all the evidence.

‘Last month’s SAGE advice said such a move would have a ”low impact” and would be ‘complicated’ to enforce.’

The drastic restrictions come after Nicola Sturgeon suggested she is also considering a ban, and warned Scots not to travel to Blackpool because 180 cases north of the border had been linked to the seaside town recently.

In Wales, there are 17 areas under higher local lockdowns, which include rules against entering or leaving the area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.

However, currently people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.

The finding was based on the assumption that all lockdown measures currently in place would be lifted, leaving the virus unchecked from now until January. 

Professor Keeling noted in the paper that this worst-case scenario would never be allowed to play out without the government intervening.

However, the paper’s findings have already been used as ammunition by those calling for the mini-lockdown, including Sir Keir.

As ministers traded blows over the restrictions, MailOnline exclusively revealed that Public Health England had sought to pour cold water on official concerns by informing politicians the UK appeared to be on ‘the same trajectory as Germany’ and would avoid spikes like those in France and Spain.  

The assessment was given by the deputy head of the Emergency Response Department at the key body as he briefed senior peers.

Minutes from the meeting on September 15 show that Dr Nick Gent insisted the UK was ‘on the same trajectory as Germany’ – which has seen a substantial rise in cases, but far lower than many other European countries.

The position contrasted sharply with the government’s Sage experts, which were calling for far tighter restrictions to curb the spread at the same time.

A PHE spokesman said: ‘Advice was given at the time which was in line with the pandemic and what was seen across the continent.’

Although the most drastic estimates have not been borne out, the PHE stance will raise further questions about its role in the crisis. The body is being replace by a new organisation headed by testing tsar Dido Harding. It also underlines the difficulties for ministers in balancing different assessments from scientists.

By September 15 the UK seven-day rolling average of cases was tracking at more than double that of Germany. The UK rate is now four times that in Germany, and close to the levels in Spain and France.

And a week later Sage scientists were demanding the government imposes a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, cautioning that cases could be doubling every seven days. 

Dr Gent gave an update to a meeting of the ruling Lords Commission, including the Lord Speaker and other senior peers, along with Professor Virginia Murray, Senior Public Health Adviser and Head of Global Disaster Risk Reduction.

He cautioned that there was no reason to believe the disease had become less virulent, and the lower level of deaths was likely down to younger people being less vulnerable.

But he also said that ‘international comparisons suggested that the UK was on the same trajectory as Germany and would not see the same significant increase as France and Spain.’

As arguments raged over where lockdown restrictions should be imposed, as many as twelve London boroughs have begun to record Covid-19 infection rates tipping over the worrying threshold of 100 cases per 100,000. 

Richmond upon Thames (140.4), Hackney and City of London (133.1) and Ealing (132.5) have the highest infection rates in London, according to the Department of Health. They are followed by Redbridge, Harrow, Barnet, Haringey and Hounslow

Richmond upon Thames (140.4), Hackney and City of London (133.1) and Ealing (132.5) have the highest infection rates in London, according to the Department of Health. They are followed by Redbridge, Harrow, Barnet, Haringey and Hounslow

Richmond upon Thames (140.4), Hackney and City of London (133.1) and Ealing (132.5) had the highest daily new cases per 100,000 people in the week to October 8, according to Government statistics. 

Armed police serve Liverpool gym owner with £1,000 fine as he REFUSES to bow to Covid closedown order 

Armed police served a Liverpool gym owner with a £1,000 fine for refusing to shut despite strict Tier 3 lockdown rules.

Nick Whitcombe defied the newly-imposed lockdown rules and refused to close Bodytech Fitness in Moreton because they ‘won’t have one to come back to’ if he did.

A member of the public noticed that the gym was still open for business and called the police who issued a warning instructing him to close.

A short while later, when he didn’t shut the premises, ‘seven or eight’ armed police officers turned up his gym, demanding that it close or face a fine. 

Police officers served Liverpool gym owner Nick Whitcombe (pictured) with a £1,000 fine for refusing to shut despite strict Tier 3 lockdown rules

A member of the public noticed that the gym was still open for business and called the police (pictured in the gym) who issued a warning instructing him to close

Police officers (pictured in the gym, right) served Liverpool gym owner Nick Whitcombe (left) with a £1,000 fine for refusing to shut despite strict Tier 3 lockdown rules

This week, Liverpool – and the neighbouring five boroughs which make up the city region – were put under Tier 3 coronavirus lockdown meaning gyms had to shut.

Mr Whitcombe shared footage of police inside his gym and said: ‘[Police officers] were with us this morning, gave us our warning. Then came back this afternoon, orders from their top boss to issue a fine straight away.

‘So, they’ve told us ‘close immediately’ or I’ll take a £1,000 fine. 

‘Obviously we still had quite a lot of members training and I said to the officers, ‘I’m not asking anyone to leave. Even if I am I’m going to let them finish their sessions first’.

‘So they’ve issued the fine. First one’s £1,000. They can come back in three hours and issue £2,000. Three hours after that £4,000.

‘It’s disappointing. They sent out seven or eight firearms officers, what a waste of resources.’ 

Chief Superintendent Claire Richards said: ‘While this lockdown does present huge challenges, the focus of us all should now be on preventing the spread of the virus and getting us back to normality as safely and as quickly as possible.

‘The new restrictions have been brought in to try to achieve that, and if we don’t act decisively and collaboratively, the impact could be harder and last even longer.

‘We will therefore continue to encourage members of the public and businesses to adhere to the guidance, explain why they should and – as in this case – use enforcement where there are clear breaches of legislation.’

None of the 32 boroughs had tipped the threshold before now, according to separate Public Health England data.

Croydon (69.8), Bromley (67.1) and Sutton (64), all in the south, sit at the other end of the scale with the fewest new cases per day — but all of them have still seen a significant hike in infections over the past month.

The average coronavirus infection rate across London’s boroughs is 94.15 cases per 100,000 people, according to the most recent Department of Health data — the equivalent of nearly one person in every 1,000 in the last week.

However, London’s figures appear to be being skewed upwards by the inclusion in the data of infected students studying in other cities. 

In Richmond, the capital’s supposed hotspot, analysis shows that a quarter of positive cases in the borough since are actually in places including Manchester, Leeds, Exeter and Durham.

Of 212 cases recorded in Richmond since September 20, 49 were in other towns and cities, the Evening Standard reports. The vast majority of these people were aged 17 to 21, suggesting they were students originally from London whose cases were recorded using their home address.

It comes after Mayor Sadiq Khan said it is ‘inevitable’ the capital will pass a ‘trigger point’ to join swathes of the North West in the higher Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions in the ‘next few days’. It would see the city’s nine million residents banned from seeing their friends and family indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

Mr Khan and other London bosses are in support of a national two-week ‘circuit break’ lockdown across the whole of England to stem rising infections to avoid ‘sleepwalking into a bleak winter’. But Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey slammed Mr Khan as ‘incredibly irresponsible’ and accused him of ‘governing by press release’ for supporting drastic action without clear scientific backing.  

Reports say 100 cases per 100,000 people is considered one of the thresholds for an area being moved into Tier 2. But ministers are bound to take into consideration an array of different sets of statistics, including ones that show the speed of growth, hospitalisations and deaths.

Data shows hospitalisations for Covid-19 in London have barely risen over the past month, despite cases having increased. Almost 5,000 infected patients were being treated by NHS doctors during the darkest days of the first wave in April — but the figure currently stands at around 300.

But in Liverpool there are mounting warnings spaces could run out next week after a doctor claimed 58 out of 60 critical-care beds in the city are already full. 

The city’s NHS critical care beds are usually 85 per cent full at this time of year, with 51 out of 60 beds occupied across three hospitals, according to NHS England data from the past six years.

But councillor Paul Brant has warned Liverpool’s intensive care units are already at 95 per cent capacity, sparking fears of an impending crisis. One senior doctor has claimed only 58 out of 60 beds are currently full, with half thought to be filled by coronavirus patients. 

Professor Callum Semple, a doctor in the city and academic at Liverpool University, said in a video released by the council 90 per cent of critical-care beds in the city are full. He warned it was likely capacity would be exceeded in a week. 

NHS England data also shows the national capacity of critical care beds is around 80 per cent and has been for several years. There are around 4,000 intensive care beds across the country, health chiefs say.

University Liverpool Hospitals Trust, which runs four hospitals in the city, has yet to reveal exactly how many intensive care beds it has available for the winter. But one of the hospitals it runs says it has 70 beds geared up with breathing apparatus to help Covid-19 patients, meaning the true number could be much higher than last winter.

It is thought this number has risen after Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged to create thousands more beds to treat critically-ill patients in the wake of Britain’s first wave, amid fears hospitals could be overwhelmed by future waves. 



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